Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review of #2 Autumn Bridge by Takashi Matsuoka

Name of Book: Autumn Bridge

Author: Takashi Matsuoka

ISBN: 0-385-33641-1

Publisher: Delacorte Book

Part of a Series: Samurai Duology; Cloud of Sparrows prequel

Type of book: Japan, America, present, past, future, prophecy, 1281-1311, 1796-1867, 1882, 1953, 1895, interracial relationship, Asian male/white female, ancestors

Year it was published: 2004


Summary:

In the year 1311, in the highest tower of Cloud of Sparrows Castle, a beautiful woman sits by the window, watching as enemies gather below and fires spread through the night. As she calmly awaits her fate, she begins to write, carefully setting down on a scroll the secret history of the Okumichi clan…of the gift of prophecy they share and the extraordinary destiny that awaits them.

For six centuries, these remarkable writings lay hidden—until they are uncovered by an American woman, a missionary named Emily Gibson, who arrived in Edo harbor in 1861, in flight from a tragic past. Soon an extraordinary man would enter her life: Lord Genji of the Okumichi clan, a nobleman with a gift of prophecy who must defend his embattled family—and confront forbidden feelings for an outsider in his midst. Emily, too, soon finds herself at a turning point; courted by two westerners, she knows her heart belongs to the one man she cannot have. But Emily has found a mission of her own: translating Genji’s ancestral history, losing herself in an epic tale of heroism and forbidden love.

For here is the story of Lady Shizuka, the beautiful witch-princess who has enchanted Okumichi men for generations…of Genji’s ancestors, Lord Hironobu and Lord Kiyori, and of the terrible betrayals that befell them…and of Genji’s parents: a wastrel father and his child bride whose tragic love has shaped Genji as a leader and as a man. As Emily sifts through the fragile scrolls, she begins to see threads of her own life woven into the ancient writings. And as past and present collide, a hidden history comes to life, and with it a secret prophecy that has been shrouded for centuries, and may now finally be revealed. Takashi Matsuoka’s spellbinding novel is infused with spectacle, intricately woven, magically told. Autumn Bridge is a feast for the senses, a work of truly dazzling storytelling.

Characters:

The characters are well written and believable. Six years has passed since Emily landed in Japan and she and Genji fell in love with each other, although Emily can't act on her feelings towards Genji, and same for Genji because he fears of what will happen when the two will fall in love. There are also characters of Lady Shizuka and how the family received the prophecy vision, as well as brief updates of what happened to the deadly and beautiful Lady Heiko and Matthew Stark and more about Goro and Kimi, the village children, and more about Lord Kiyori and Genji's mother and father, Midori and Yorimasu. The book is a pleasure to read and unpredictable.

Theme:

(From the book, chapter 12) "Knowing the future was like knowing the past. Events could not be controlled or altered, only one's attitude toward them. Like the earth itself, the heart had directions. Bitterness, anguish, fear, and hatred lay one way; equanimity, gratitude, kindness, and love another.

"This ability to choose the heart's direction was the true power of the prophet, which was no more than the only true power of every human being."

Plot:

This is written from omniscient point of view, from also points of views almost all characters and combines past, present and future in one book. I am not sure whether to classify this as a prequel or a sequel. It deserves that kind of category. Unfortunately certain events were rushed in my view and it raises a lot more questions than it answers. I am not sure whether or not its necessary to read The Cloud of Sparrows, but I would guess yes, it is necessary. I would like it if the author wrote a third book to answer more questions but the book would tie everything up so to speak.

Author Information:

This is from wikipedia: Takashi Matsuoka (born January 10, 1947) is a first-generation Japanese American writer. He lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, United States, and worked at a Zen Buddhist temple before becoming a full-time writer. His books about American missionaries' visits to Japan are often compared to Shōgun and other books by British historical novelist James Clavell. Matsuoka also worked as a writer for the 1990 film Pale Blood.

Opinion:

Although this book does answer questions from Cloud of Sparrows, it also raises more questions than it answers. It does reveal interesting things about Genji's grandfather, including his secret, and it gives more information and details about Lady Shizuka, the witch princess that was rescued by Genji's ancestor Hironobu. If the author hadn't planned on giving sequel to this novel I wish he could have answered more questions instead of raising them. (For example, why has Emily insisted on calling her and Genji's daughter Shizuka?) What is interesting is that due to the character's name I sometimes link this book to the Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji. Although I hadn't read the last chapter of the book yet, the title of the book is similar to the chapter in Tale of Genji. (Autumn Bridge vs The Floating Bridge of Dreams.) Also in The Tale of Genji, the character of Genji says how autumn is his favorite season. I do wonder at the connection between the novels as well as the fact that I doubt the author will continue writing the story. (More on that later.)

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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